Born Carole Penny Marscharelli October 15, 1943 (some sources say 1942), in Bronx, NY; daughter of Anthony W. (an industrial filmmaker and producer) and Marjorie Irene (a dance instructor; maiden name, Ward) Marscharelli (later changed surname to Marshall); married Michael Henry, 1961 (divorced 1963); married Rob Reiner (an actor and film director), April 10, 1971 (divorced 1979); children: (first marriage) Tracy Lee. Education: Attended the University of New Mexico, 1961-64.
Office—Parkway Productions, 10202 West Washington Blvd., Astaire Building, Suite 2210, Culver City, CA 90232. Agent—William Morris Agency, 151 El Camino Dr., Beverly Hills, CA 90212-2775.
Actress and director. Worked variously as a secretary and as a dance instructor; actress in summer stock, including an appearance in Oklahoma!, and choreographer at the Albuquerque Light Opera, mid-1960s; appeared on stage in Eden Court, produced Off-Broadway, 1985. Television debut on The Danny Thomas Hour, National Broadcasting Company, Inc. (NBC-TV), 1967-68; played Myrna Turner on The Odd Couple, American Broadcasting Companies, Inc. (ABC-TV), 1971-75; played Janice Dreyfuss on Friends and Lovers, Columbia Broadcasting System, Inc. (CBS-TV), 1974-75; and played Laverne De Fazio on Laverne & Shirley, ABC-TV, 1976-83, animated series Laverne & Shirley in the Army, ABC-TV, 1981-82 and The Mork & Mindy/Laverne & Shirley/Fonz Hour, ABC-TV, 1982. Appeared in television pilots, including Evil Roy Slade, NBC-TV, 1972, and Wives, CBS-TV, 1975. Director of episodes of television series, including Laverne & Shirley, ABC-TV, 1976-83; Working Stiffs, CBS-TV, 1979; The Tracey Ullman Show, Fox, 1987-90; and director and executive producer of A League of Their Own, CBS-TV, 1993. Executive producer of television pilot Heaven Will Wait, CBS-TV, 1997. Appeared as a guest on numerous television series, including The Super, The Bob Newhart Show, Happy Days, Saturday Night Live, The Comedy Zone, Chico and the Man, The Mary Tyler Moore Show, Blansky's Beauties, The Tonight Show, Dinah, The Mike Douglas Show, Danny Thomas Hour, The Merv Griffin Show, $20,000 Pyramid, Original Amateur Hour, Heaven Help Us, and The Simpsons. Appeared on television specials, including The Barry Manilow Special, Battle of the Network Stars, Circus of the Stars, General Electric's All-Star Anniversary, Celebrity Football Classic, Lily for President, Bugs Bunny-Looney Toons All Star Fiftieth Anniversary, Celebrity Challenge of the Sexes, Laverne and Shirley in the Army, The Sixth Annual American Comedy Awards, The 37th AnnualPrime Time Emmy Awards, The 40th Annual Emmy Awards, Naked Hollywood, and Simpsons Roasting on an Open Fire. Actress in films, including How Sweet It Is, National General, 1968; The Savage Seven, American International, 1968; The Grasshopper, National General, 1970; The Feminist and the Fuzz (television), ABC-TV, 1971; The Couple Takes a Wife (television), ABC-TV, 1972; The Crooked Hearts (television), ABC-TV, 1972; Love Thy Neighbor (television), ABC-TV, 1974; Let's Switch (television), ABCTV, 1975; How Come Nobody's on Our Side?, American Films, 1975; More Than Friends (television), ABCTV, 1978; 1941, Universal, 1979; Love Thy Neighbor, ABC-TV, 1984; Movers and Shakers, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer/United Artists, 1985; Challenge of a Lifetime (television), ABC-TV, 1985 The Hard Way, Universal, 1991; Hocus Pocus, Buena Vista, 1993; The Odd Couple: Together Again, CBS-TV, 1993; Get Shorty, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 1995; One Vision, Vienna Productions, 1998; Special Delivery, Calling Productions, 1999; Jackie's Back, Lifetime, 1999; Entertainment Tonight Presents: Laverne and Shirley Together Again, 2002; and Stateside, 2004. Director of films, including Jumpin' Jack Flash, Twentieth Century-Fox, 1986; Big, Twentieth Century-Fox, 1988; Awakenings (and executive producer), Columbia, 1990; A League of Their Own (and executive producer), Columbia, 1992; Renaissance Man (and executive producer) Buena Vista, 1994; The Preacher's Wife, Buena Vista, 1996; and Riding in Cars with Boys, Sony Pictures Entertainment/Columbia, 2001. Executive producer of film Calendar Girl, Columbia, 1993. Producer of films, including Calendar Girl, 1993; Getting Away with Murder, Savoy Pictures, 1996; Saving Grace, Universal, 1998; The Time Tunnel: The Movie, 1999; and With Friends Like These, Miramax, 1999.
Golden Globe nominations, 1978, 1979, 1980, for Laverne & Shirley; Crystal Award, Women in Film, 1991; Creative Achievement Award nomination, American Comedy Awards, 1992; Hochi Film Award, 1992, for A League of Their Own; ICON Award, Premiere magazine, 1996, for contributions to filmmaking; High Hopes Award (with Robert Greenhut and Amy Lemisch), Munich Film Festival, 1998, for With Friends Like These; Golden Swan, Cabourg Romantic Film Festival, 2002, for Riding in Cars with Boys.
Author of scripts, with Cindy Williams, My Country 'Tis of Thee and Paper Hands. Contributor to periodicals, including New York Times Magazine and Interview.
Despite her enormous success as an actress and major motion picture director, Penny Marshall is still notoriously known for her incredibly low self-esteem. "Penny Marshall has been putting herself down too long to quit cold turkey," explained Joe Morgenstern in Playboy. "She still shrugs her self-deprecating shrug, still whines her self-doubting whine. Nevertheless, she has started sifting through evidence that she may actually be good at her new career." Marshall became a household name when she portrayed the wacky, wise-cracking, milk-and Pepsi-drinking Laverne De Fazio on the popular prime-time sitcom Laverne and Shirley from 1976 to 1983. The switch from comedic actress to major motion picture director came unexpectedly in 1985, but Marshall's new career has progressed rapidly. Her films include such box-office smash hits as Big, Awakenings, and A League of Their Own. "Fifteen years after Laverne and Shirley made her a famous bottlecapper, … [Marshall] has evolved into a frazzled earth mama, with only a lingering hint of her daffy TV persona," commented Rachel Abramowitz in Premiere. "Slumped in her chair, beneath a mop of blond, unbrushed hair, Marshall offers a potent blend of vulnerability, honesty, and maternal vigor that makes one believe she can effectively cajole people into doing her bidding. You end up wanting to help her—her self-effacing shtick both cloaks and intimates her directing style."
Marshall was born October 15, 1943, the youngest of three children. Her introduction to the entertainment business came at an early age. Her father, Tony Marscharelli, was an advertiser and industrial film maker, and her mother, Marjorie, ran an eccentric tap-dancing school which Marshall would later attend. In her Playboy interview, Marshall remembered her mother as "a funny lady. She was way ahead of her time. She was the only mother who wore slacks, the only mother who worked, and she had this sort of Harpo Marx style of humor. We all got our sense of humor from her." Marshall was also influenced by the Bronx neighborhood in which she grew up; the block on which she lived—Grand Concourse and Mosholu Parkway—was home to a number of other future celebrities, including Neil Simon, Calvin Klein, and Ralph Lauren. Marshall's older sister, television producer Ronny Hallin, told Morgenstern that she remembered her younger sister as "a little devil kind of kid, always getting into trouble. She was a real good athlete, a tomboy. She rode a two-wheeler really young, and fast, always very fast, zip zip zip, testing people all the time."
Struggles through Adolescent Years
It was as early as her adolescent years that signs of Marshall's now infamous lack of self-confidence began appearing. "I made fun of myself before anyone did," she revealed in an interview with Marty Friedman for New York, "because I looked like a coconut and had bucked teeth, braces, and a ponytail. I wore a Davy Crockett T-shirt. I guess because I couldn't get the guys on a romantic level I took the friendship level.… I don't remember myself as funny," continued Marshall. "I was heartbroken for most of those years, in love with everybody. But I was always the character. Today people tell me, 'You were always fun to be around,' but did I have a different view of what I was doing! Still I wouldn't trade that for anything. There was a place you belonged. You just went out to the Parkway and found all your friends."
In addition to the difficulties she experienced socially, Marshall also had a hard time finding a role in her family while she was growing up. Her sister was the "pretty and bright" one, her brother Garry was the "sickly and bright" one, so Marshall finally chose to be the "rebellious and fun-loving" one. This sibling rivalry continued as she grew older; both her brother and her sister were able to attend the college of their choice, Northwestern University, while Marshall had to attend the college of her mother's choice. By the time Marshall was ready for college her mother decided she wanted to keep one of her children close to home, so she sent her to the University of New Mexico. "My mother thought it was closer than Ohio," explained Marshall in her Playboy interview. "Because New York, New Jersey, New Hampshire, New Mexico—she figured all the News were together. I wanted to go to Ohio State because there was a guy there, but my mother said New Mexico. It didn't matter. I just wanted to get away."
During her first two years of college Marshall studied psychology, business, and anthropology, married Michael Henry (another student), and got pregnant. "He was on football scholarship, and one of us had to work, so I worked," related Marshall in her interview with Morgenstern. "A man was supposed to finish college, a girl didn't have to. And I wasn't really dedicated, anyway; I felt it was no big sacrifice. I think I was just killing time." So, after her daughter, Tracy, was born, Marshall began working as a secretary, later becoming a dance teacher because of better pay and better hours. She also worked for a short time as a choreographer for the Albuquerque Light Opera and appeared in a production of Oklahoma! When her marriage broke up just a few years later, though, Marshall packed up her bags and headed out to Los Angeles, where her brother was working as a writer for The Dick Van Dyke Show.
Marshall's arrival in Hollywood began the stage of her life when she was known solely as "Garry's sister." And aside from being unknown, Marshall also had no idea what she wanted to do with her life. Garry tried to help her, but when he discovered that Marshall couldn't name one thing she liked, he sent her away until she could. A few days later she came back, remembering the pleasure acting had brought her—she liked the audience's laughter and their applause. It was decided; Marshall would be an actress. This was much easier said than accomplished, though. Marshall "couldn't turn on the charm in interviews, because she didn't feel pretty enough," remarked Morgenstern, adding: "She couldn't get auditions, because she wasn't perky enough. In what became a painfully funny milestone in her life, she finally did get hired for a shampoo commercial, but as the girl with stringy hair; the girl with beautiful hair was Farrah Fawcett."
By this time Garry was a successful director and producer, and his sister's most promising hope for regular work. In 1971, despite possible charges of nepotism, he decided to cast Marshall as Jack Klugman's secretary in a show he was co-producing—The Odd Couple. Marshall played this role for three years, marrying actor and future director Rob Reiner in the meantime. It was while auditioning for the role of Gloria on All in the Family that Marshall met Reiner, who was trying out for the part of Archie's Meathead son-in-law, which he got. The two were the first among a large circle of friends to marry and buy a house, which soon became a regular gathering spot. Among the group were a number of up-and-coming television personalities, including writer-producer Jim Brooks and actors Albert Brooks and Paul Sills. In his interview with Morgenstern, Jim Brooks fondly remembered the Marshall of this period. "This was a time when all her strengths and all her intelligence had no practical utilization in the world. She was sort of a housewife, and it was great for all of us who knew her then, because all her marvelous talents were available for your life. Any problems you had, you got this great force of energy from her. I enjoyed it while I had it, but I saw it slipping away, because she had to go out and be a whole person."
Brings Wise-cracking Laverne to Life
After her small part in The Odd Couple, Marshall's acting career continued to forge ahead. Brooks helped her out by giving her a substantial role in the short-lived series Friends and Lovers. It was a year after this that Laverne and Shirley, the show that would make Marshall famous, came along. Produced and created by Garry, the show was a blue-collar comic spin-off from one of his other shows, Happy Days. Like other similar sitcoms, Laverne and Shirley was sarcastically criticized by reviewers and loved by its audience. Set in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, the show follows the often chaotic adventures of two mismatched roommates: Laverne De Fazio, who is played by Marshall, is a zany realist, while Shirley Feeny, played by Cindy Williams, is a naive romantic. Other characters include Laverne and Shirley's nerdy neighbors Lenny and Squiggy, Shirley's ever-faithful fiancé, Carmine Raguso, and Frank De Fazio, Laverne's father. During the show's nine-year-run, Laverne and Shirley leave their bottle-capping jobs, move to California, and finally separate when Shirley marries an Army doctor and joins him overseas. "Laverne was homely but lovable, gloomy about being a virgin but devilish in ways that Penny had been developing since her girlhood," said Morgenstern. "Suddenly, Garry's sister and Rob's wife was a star in her own right, a heroine of working class America."
It was near the end of both Laverne and Shirley and All in the Family's long runs that Marshall's marriage encountered problems. "We faced all the cliche things," recalled Marshall in a People interview with Lois Armstrong. "We could check all the boxes in the stress test. His success, my success, buying a house, building a house. There were never any fights or arguments, but we didn't seem to be connecting," continued Marshall. "We just asked each other, 'Is this it? Are we happy? I don't think so.' So we decided to try a separation." Reiner moved out and the couple eventually divorced, starting the beginning of what Marshall now terms her "door-mat years. You could walk all over me and it was OK, 'cause that's what I thought of myself," she told Morgenstern.
After the break-up Marshall tried the party scene for a while, dating such celebrities as singer-songwriter Art Garfunkel and actor David Dukes. She rented a number of houses before she finally convinced herself that she deserved an actual home of her own; but when she bought the large hillside house in which she still resides, she found the many rooms impossible to fill. This was when Marshall began taking in friends as house guests, who then became boarders, and eventually her surrogate family. "Marshall herself lived a strange, increasingly isolated life," related Morgenstern. "In part, that grew out of her problems finding privacy as a celebrity. But mostly, it was an expression of her tastes and needs.… Her friends have always understood. They know her as a woman who doesn't go out, so they come to her. They also know her as a woman of extraordinary energy and stamina, when she isn't wallowing in lethargy, and a woman of extraordinary competence, when she isn't whining or playing helpless. That's the essential contradiction of Marshall's life: She's a can-do person who often behaves as if she can't."
In spite of this continuing low self-esteem, Marshall's career proceeded to grow during these years. She appeared as a guest on a number of television series, starred in a number of television movies, and was a cast member for an Off-Broadway production of Eden Court. It was in 1985 that Marshall's career took an unexpected turn: she became a major motion picture director. She had had some previous experience, directing a few episodes of Laverne and Shirley and the pilot episode of Working Stiffs, and it was on the basis of this work that the producer of Jumpin' Jack Flash, Lawrence Gordon, asked Marshall to take over as the movie's director.
Jumps into Directorial Debut
The production of Jumpin' Jack Flash was encountering a number of problems when Marshall entered into the project, making for a less than promising start to her feature film directorial debut. The movie had already begun shooting when Gordon called Marshall and asked her to replace the current director, Howard Zieff (he was having problems working with Whoopi Goldberg). "From Marshall's perspective," explained Morgenstern, "the prospect of plunging into someone else's movie after ten days of shooting was fearsome. The script was an amateurish, unpleasant mess, while the production was awash in panic and anger." But despite the difficulties Marshall encountered with Jumpin' Jack Flash, maintained Tom Cunneff and Jack Kelley in People, the end product proved to the film industry that she could make a movie. "I believed in her," asserted Jim Brooks, who produced Marshall's next film, Big, in his interview with Cunneff and Kelley. "She came into Jumpin' Jack Flash under the most insane conditions imaginable and showed a lot of imagination."
Jumpin' Jack Flash stars Whoopi Goldberg as Terry Doolittle, a dissatisfied computer operator at a New York bank who begins to receive S.O.S. messages on her computer. The sender turns out to be a British agent, "Jumpin' Jack Flash," who is being held prisoner behind the Iron Curtain. Doolittle is the only one who can relay the information he needs to make his escape. Agreeing to help the agent, she suddenly finds her life filled with spies, killers, and traitors. It is only through the use of a number of disguises and her wit that Doolittle is able to deliver. During the course of helping Jack, though, Doolittle falls in love with him and is heartbroken when faced with the prospect of never hearing from him again. But by the end of the movie he makes her dreams come true when he shows up in New York and charmingly asks her out to lunch.
"If judged as nothing more than a showcase for Whoopi Goldberg's comedic talent, then Jumpin' Jack Flash succeeds just fine, thank you," commented Jimmy Summers in Boxoffice. Other critics, however, such as Vincent Canby of the New York Times, found the movie to be a waste of Goldberg's talents. "She's a volatile natural resource that can't easily be contained by means as frail and soft-headed as those offered by Jumpin' Jack Flash, her first and—let's hope—her worst motion-picture comedy," related Canby. Summers, on the other hand, was surprised at "just how funny the movie manages to be," concluding that "Jumpin' Jack Flash is fun, audience-pleasing fluff."
Makes It "Big" at the Box Office
It was while filming Jumpin' Jack Flash that Marshall received the script for her next feature film, Big. One day Brooks came into her office, plopped an envelope down on her desk, and told her that it would be her next movie. Big differed from Marshall's first film in two very important ways: it was her project from the start and it came with a much more appealing script.
Big begins on a normal weekday morning in modern-day suburbia. Twelve-year-old Josh Baskin makes his way through an average day of school with his best friend, Billy, before attending a traveling carnival later in the evening with his parents. Discouraged because he isn't tall enough to go on a ride with an older girl he likes, Josh comes across a carnival wishing machine called Zoltar. Plunking in his quarter, he proceeds to wish to be big, then forgets all about it. The following morning Josh awakes to discover he is in the body of a thirty-year-old man. Though he tries to explain what happened to his mother, she thinks he is a kidnapper who took her son, so Josh runs off to school to find Billy. Unable to locate Zoltar, Josh and Billy decide that Josh will have to get a job while Billy looks for the missing wish machine. Kismet leads to a job in a toy company for Josh, who discovers the pleasures of adulthood in coworker Susan, played by Elizabeth Perkins, an ambitious executive who is attracted to his boyish innocence. When Billy shows up to tell him that Zoltar has been located and to remind him that he is really just a kid, Josh decides he doesn't want to miss out on all the years between twelve and thirty—he wishes to be small again and returns home.
" Big is one of those seemingly effortless movies in which a comic style is sustained from beginning to end, and every detail along the way rings true," according to Morgenstern. A great deal of work went into presenting this appearance; Marshall made the movie using as much time as she deemed necessary and shot vast amounts of film in the process. She "has wonderful instincts, and the tenacity to follow them," remarked Morgenstern, adding that "Big was the product of an intricate collaboration: actors and technicians, writers and producers and director. But, like every good movie, it was shaped by the sensibility of its director." Also praising Marshall's directing skills, David Ansen related in Newsweek, "Former Laverne & Shirley star Penny Marshall has turned into an adroit director—the first two-thirds of Big are an utter delight, full of sharp things to say about men, boys and corporate life." "Big is big comedy news—that rare film that can tickle the funny bone and touch the heart," concluded a People contributor.
Big's enormous success made Marshall one of the most sought-after women directors in Hollywood. All the major studios were suddenly sending her scripts from their prized collections. "Mostly I got sent a lot of high-concept comedies, which were things like, someone sees the Madonna on the tennis court and it changes their life; or a frog turns into a prince, a dog turns into a human," Marshall recalled for Carol Caldwell in Interview. "And I didn't want to do that again," she continued. "So I read a massive number of scripts and came across Awakenings. All I know is the story was so fascinating and moving, and I didn't think I'd do it at the time, but it just wouldn't go away." Twentieth Century-Fox thought the script was too depressing, though, and wasn't very enthusiastic about Marshall doing it. By this time she had sent the script to DeNiro, and he had accepted once again. Originally unsure of which part she wanted him to play, Marshall left the choice up to DeNiro; and when he picked the part of the patient the difficult search to fill the role of the doctor began. It was while viewing Dead Poets Society that Marshall first considered Robin Williams for the part. DeNiro agreed with her choice, and after a few meetings Williams signed on. In the meantime, Columbia had decided to take the film, so the rest of the casting and production began soon after.
Delves into Drama with Awakenings
Awakenings is a fictionalized version of the clinical work Dr. Oliver Sacks describes in his 1973 book of the same title. Between the years of 1916 and 1927, a wave of sleeping sickness swept the nation, leaving its victims in a catatonic state. In 1969 Dr. Sacks administered a "miracle" drug, L-dopa, to a group of these living dead patients and recorded a number of their case histories in his book. In the movie version of the book, Dr. Malcolm Sayer (Williams) arrives at a psychiatric hospital in the Bronx in the late 1960s to be greeted by an often uncaring staff of doctors. The patients he finds most fascinating are a group of immobile postencephalitics who remain in a seemingly constant vegetative state. Dr. Sayer begins to notice, however, that they are able to react to things—when he throws a ball at one of them, it is reflexively caught, and almost all of the patients react to a particular type of music. Against the wishes of the other doctors, Sayer grudgingly receives permission to administer a new drug that has been successful in treating Parkinson's disease to one of the patients—Leonard Lowe (DeNiro).
With increased dosages of L-dopa, Lowe eventually "wakes" up and slowly begins to function as a normal person once again. The success with Lowe allows Dr. Sayer to administer the drug to the other victims of the disease, and they are soon all awake and as full of life as Lowe. The group attends a dance and goes on other field trips, and Lowe even experiences a short flirtation with a young woman who comes to the hospital to visit her father. The drug is only effective for a short period of time, though, and the patients begin slipping back into their original state. The first to go is Lowe, who begins to develop a tic, and then must deal with watching his body take control of his mind again. By the end of the film, all the patients have returned to their original state. Along with the patients, Dr. Sayer also experiences his own awakening. A shy and introverted man, he is slowly pulled out of his shell by the head nurse at the hospital, played by Julie Kavner. The movie ends with their budding romance and Sayer's realization of the preciousness of life.
"I think the common thread in Awakenings is, You should live every day because it could always be taken away from you," pointed out Marshall in her interview with Caldwell. "As well as, Treat people with illnesses like human beings. I think the theme is, A little bit of life is better than no life at all. That's not very difficult to follow. And if that hits the pulse of the nation, I guess we are in sync." The themes Marshall described, the casts' performances, and the movie itself were favorably received by many critics. Awakenings is "a volatile mix of strength and weakness, intellectual boldness and commercial calculation," commented David Denby in New York, adding, "What it takes to unlock the energy inside [the patients], and then the exhilarations and tragedies of that unlocking, are the heart of this film, which, believe it or not, is an entertainment, and a smart one at that." Peter Travers, writing in Rolling Stone, saw the movie as a definite Oscar contender, concluding that "Marshall's direction shows the patients' situation, which the real Leonard once described as 'wonderful, terrible, dramatic and comic,' with pitiless clarity. In only her third film, Marshall joins the front ranks of directors. She draws exceptional performances."
Swings into Skirt-Flying Summer Hit
With her next film, 1992's summer hit A League of Their Own, Marshall returns to a familiar genre—comedy. Like Awakenings, A League of Their Own is based on historical fact. Back in the 1940s, during World War II, the All American Girls Professional Baseball League (AAGPBL) was formed to compensate for the loss of a number of major league baseball players to the war effort. The Chicago Cubs' owner, P. K. Wrigley, and the president of the new league, Ken Sells, hired recruiters in 1942 to start searching the women's softball leagues in the United States and Canada in hopes of creating an attraction to fill the void of the depleted men's league. Wrigley planned to sell the women ballplayers as attractive and ladylike, not as tomboys or women of questionable ethics. The uniform was a tunic worn over elasticized shorts, and the members of the league were required to attend charm school. The atmosphere changed on the field, though, where the women traded their high heels for spikes and, eventually, their softballs for hardballs. To the surprise of many, these women could really play baseball, and they kept the league going for eleven years because of this.
A League of Their Own focuses on one particular team in the new league, the Rockford Peaches. The movie begins with the recruiter, played by Jon Lovitz, traveling across the Midwest in search of appropriate players. He sees Dottie Hinson, played by Geena Davis, and decides that she fits the criteria—she's good-looking and she can play. When he approaches her, sarcasm flowing freely from his lips, she isn't interested, but her younger sister, Kit, played by Lori Petty, is. Lovitz flat out tells her he doesn't want her, but finally agrees to let her try out if Dottie comes too. The try-outs ensue, introducing other future members of the Peaches, including a couple of bad girls from Brooklyn played by Madonna and Rosie O'Donnell.
It soon becomes clear that the members of the league are expected to be sex objects, not ballplayers; their uniforms consist of short skirts, they are required to take etiquette lessons, they are all given makeovers, and each team is assigned a chaperon to watch their behavior. The first big problem the Peaches encounter comes in the form of their new manager, Jimmy Duggan, played by Tom Hanks. A former baseball star who drank himself out of the league, Duggan is given the job as a last chance, and doesn't think much of coaching a bunch of "girls." He basically ignores the team for the first half of the movie, making it necessary for Dottie to take over. The next problem encountered comes in the form of empty stands—the league isn't catching on. So, when she finds out that a Life photographer is in the stands, Dottie decides to give him something to photograph; she goes back to get a pop-up, simultaneously doing the splits as she catches it. The picture generates some interest, and as more fans come to see the "sexy" girl ballplayers they realize they're seeing good baseball and come back for more.
As the league begins to catch on, Duggan finally begins to pay attention to his players. All seems to be going well until Dottie and Kit start encountering problems; Kit is jealous of Dottie, who always seems to do things better then her. The problem is resolved when Kit is traded to another team, but the two sisters fail to reconcile their differences. Soon after, Dottie's husband unexpectedly returns from the war and she decides to go home with him just as the Peaches are getting ready to play the league's first World Series. Unable to stay away, though, she shows up for the final game, which comes down to Kit (who is on the other team) getting a hit. Kit leads her team to victory, and the movie ends with the members of the league reuniting a number of years later at the Baseball Hall of Fame for the opening of the AAGPBL exhibit.
Baseballs, Bruises, and Broken Noses
Aside from actors and actresses, A League of Their Own also features members of the original league (in the closing scenes at the Hall of Fame), and a number of extras who could already play baseball. "A lot of people in A League of Their Own hadn't done any acting," related Marshall in a Lear's interview with Elvis Mitchell. "We looked at anyone who could play ball, then we read them. We picked as many as we could from the actual ballplayers. Then we had to go for some actresses who looked like they could be trained. And we took 'em all to baseball coaches to find out if there was any possibility that they could play the game. And if they said, 'No possibility,' then we couldn't use 'em. But if they said, 'Trainable' … that's all we needed to hear. That word trainable. We'll take 'em!" Once the "trainable" actresses were cast, the actual training, done by USC baseball coaches, began in earnest. "I had bruises man, all over my legs, all over my arms," said Geena Davis in a group interview with Nancy Griffin for Premiere. "I had bruises that had stitches on them—you could see the imprint of a baseball on my forearms. Then I realized it was a lot easier to catch a ball with your glove than with other parts of your body." Another actress, Megan Cavanagh, related Marshall's worries about the numerous injuries suffered by the cast. "Penny, God love her, was so worried; you know, people were breaking their noses—people were getting hurt," she told Griffin. "We were having all kinds of little accidents with these '40s mitts, and Penny's reaction was 'Oh my God, keep them healthy. '"
The actual filming of the baseball sequences was also very difficult—to orchestrate a play as it was described in the script was next to impossible. "There was this one moment where Penny called everybody around and said, 'Okay, here's what happens: the first pitch is a ball, the second pitch you pop up over toward the Peaches' dugout, the third pitch you hit for a single that goes between the second baseman and the shortstop. Then Lori comes up,'" explained Tom Hanks in the group Premiere interview. "Now, you've got to understand," he continued, "it was very hard for whoever was pitching to actually get the ball from the pitcher's mound to home plate, because they were doing the full 60 feet. And Penny is insisting—she's screaming at us, 'The first pitch has to be a ball. The second pitch has to be popped up.…' It's not going to happen! Who are you kidding? There were a couple of times when what was supposed to happen actually happened, but not too often. It was just ludicrous amounts of fun."
Critics also recognized the inherent fun of the movie, with Richard Schickel describing it as "energetic, full of goodwill and good feelings" in a review for Time. David Ansen asserted in Newsweek that A League of Their Own is "amiable entertainment" which offers "a mixture of shtik, schmaltz and feminism." Entertainment Weekly contributor Owen Gleiberman, though, maintained, "It's an odd movie, at once bubbly and amorphous, with plenty of mild laugh lines but virtually nothing you could call dialogue. League is easy to watch, but there's no there there." Ansen, however, concluded that what Marshall ends up with is a "very likable pop historical comedy."
Struggles with Recent Movies
After A League of Their Own Marshall suffered through several films that were box office disappointments, including Renaissance Man, The Preacher's Wife, and Riding in Cars with Boys. The first of these, released in 1994, is a Danny DeVito comedy about an advertising executive (DeVito) who loses his job and is forced to find employment as a teacher at an army camp. His job is to teach a group of difficult recruits how to "comprehend," which he does using unconventional teaching techniques and adapting Shakespearean plays into a method of instruction that includes such comedic devices as having his students summarize Hamlet and Henry V as rap songs. By the end of the film, DeVito has learned to care about teaching and the recruits have learned to respect DeVito, even though his is just a civilian. The film received little attention from critics, and those who did write about it were not impressed. For example, James Berardinelli commented on his Reelviews Web site: "Taken as a whole, Renaissance Man is a typical offering from the director. It's about earning mutual respect, righting wrongs, and enjoying a too-sappy, happy ending. However, along the way, this movie wanders, never offering much insight into any of the characters, relying on poorly-concealed plot devices, and manipulating with a surprising heavy-handedness."
In contrast to Renaissance Man, audiences and critics alike anticipated Marshall's 1996 film, The Preacher's Wife, with great enthusiasm. A remake of the 1947 movie The Bishop's Wife, which starred Cary Grant, the story concerns an overworked reverend, played by Courtney Vance in Marshall's remake, whose struggles to keep his church afloat leads him to largely ignore his wife, played by singing diva Whitney Houston. Sending a prayer to heaven for help, his plea is answered in the form of an angel named Dudley, played by Denzel Washington. However, complications arise when Dudley, who has encouraged the preacher's wife's singing talents, begins to have strong feelings for her; in the meantime, the preacher has a lot to learn about trusting others and himself. Though the soundtrack featuring Houston's singing was enjoyed by many, reviewers found the film to be a lackluster imitation of the original. As Newsweek's David Ansen suggested, "You'll need a high tolerance for artificial sweets to make it through 'The Preacher's Wife,' a tepid remake of the 1947 'The Bishop's Wife.'" In an even less flattering assessment of the film, Lisa Schwarzbaum wrote in Entertainment Weekly that the direction is "scattershot" and the script "graceless." And Time's Rich Corliss called Marshall's direction "alternately depressive and manic."
If you enjoy the works of Penny Marshall
you may also want to check out the following films:
Vice Versa, starring Judge Reinhold and Fred Savage, 1988.
Field of Dreams, starring Kevin Costner, 1989.
Girl, Interrupted, starring Winona Ryder and Angelina Jolie, 1999.
With 2001's Riding in Cars with Boys, Marshall received a somewhat more positive response. This film, which features Drew Barrymore in an adaptation of the Beverly Donofrio autobiography, concerns the dramatic consequences on a young woman's life—Donofrio, played by Barrymore—after she becomes pregnant at the age of fifteen and gives up a chance for a college education to raise her son. Although Donofrio helped produce the film, critics noticed that the end result bore little resemblance to the book. As Variety contributor Robert Koehler observed, "Donofrio's presence as a co-producer suggests scripter Morgan Upton Ward's massive reworking of her life went forth with her approval, but the result under Penny Marshall's direction is a film with genuinely serious intentions that falls considerably short of its goals." Koehler also complained that the jumps in time between Beverly's past and present "repeatedly disrupt the story's flow." However, New Statesman critic Philip Kerr attested that in Riding in Cars with Boys "Marshall never gives in to the mawkish sentimentality that marred some of her recent films—Awakenings and The Preacher's Wife—and this is her best work since Big."
Marshall herself has always struggled with self-doubt about the quality of her movies. After a film is completed, she often struggles with an interior dialogue, which, as she revealed in her Lear's interview, goes like this: "'This stinks. Why am I doing this?' There's a time after the movie's out, a couple of months later, when you have nothing to do.… Then you say, 'Well, I wonder if I should do another movie.' That's when all the pain has gone away. You forget that pain. Till you start in again and go, 'Ooh! This wasn't fun at all.'" Despite her trepidation and insecurities, though, Marshall continues to take on new projects. "Some part of me must be ambitious because I keep doing things," she concluded in her interview with Cunneff and Kelley.
Biographical and Critical Sources
Contemporary Theatre, Film and Television, Volume 48, Gale (Detroit, MI), 2003.
Women Filmmakers & Their Films, St. James Press (Detroit, MI), 1998.
Boxoffice, December, 1986, Jimmy Summers, review of Jumpin' Jack Flash, pp. R133-R134.
Commonweal, September 11, 1992, Richard Alleva, review of A League of Their Own, p. 41.
Entertainment Weekly, July 10, 1992, Owen Gleiberman, "Comedy of Errors," p. 39; May 19, 1995, Ken Tucker, "The Laverne and Shirley Reunion," p. 48; December 13, 1996, Rebecca Ascher-Walsh, "Preacher's Strife," p. 47; December 20, 1996, Lisa Schwarzbaum, review of The Preacher's Wife, p. 53; April 25, 1997, Caren Weiner, review of The Preacher's Wife, p. 78; August 15, 1997, Josh Wood, "A Wing and a Prayer," p. 13; November 7, 1997, Barry Janoff, "The Old Pals' Pal," p. 100; November 2, 2001, Owen Gleiberman and Lisa Schwarzbaum, "The Week," p. 52.
Interview, January, 1991, Carol Caldwell, "The Marshall Plan,", pp. 16, 18-19; May, 1994, "Penny Marshall Marshals Her Wits and Fishes for Dish with Carrie Fisher," p. 18; November, 2001, Diane Baroni, "Preview: Riding in Cars with Boys, "p.56.
Lear's, July, 1992, Elvis Mitchell, "Sibling Revelry," pp. 52-55.
Maclean's, December 24, 1990, Brian D. Johnson, review of Awakenings, p. 50; July 13, 1992, Brian D. Johnson, review of A League of Their Own, p. 45.
New Republic, July 4, 1988, Stanley Kauffman, review of Big, p. 25; January 7, 1991, Stanley Kauffman, review of Awakenings, p. 32.
New Statesman, December 3, 2001, Philip Kerr, "Easy Rider: Philip Kerr on What Really Goes on in the Back Seats of Cars," p. 41.
Newsweek, June 6, 1988, David Ansen, "Man-Child in the Corporate Land," Newsweek, p. 72; July 6, 1992, David Ansen, "Big Laughs and Cheap Thrills," p. 54; December 23, 1996, David Ansen, review of The Preacher's Wife, p. 68.
New York, October 26, 1981, Marty Friedman, "The Parkway All-Stars," pp. 74-75, 78-83; December 17, 1990, David Denby, "The Good Doctor," pp. 68, 71.
New Yorker, July 13, 1992, Michael Sragow, "The Current Cinema," pp. 66-68.
New York Times, October 10, 1986, Vincent Canby, "Screen: Whoopi Goldberg in Jumpin' Jack Flash," p. C7.
People, April 28, 1980, Lois Armstrong, "It's Thumbs Up—Sort of—as Penny Marshall Copes with Life without Meathead," pp. 98, 100, 102, 104, 106; June 6, 1988, review of Big, pp. 16-17; August 15, 1988, Tom Cunneff and Jack Kelley, "Penny Marshall Finally Leaves Laverne behind and Scores Big as a Director—So Why the Long Face?," pp. 53-54; December 23, 1996, George Kalogerakis, "Penny Marshall: 'The Preacher's Wife' Director Finds Peace in a Riot of Work" p. 105; January 12, 1998, Mitchell Fink, "Speaking of Nash Bridges," p. 45; November 13, 2000, "Insider," p. 61; November 4, 2002, Tom Cunneff, "Insider;" April 19, 2004, Jason Lynch, "DVD View," p. 32.
Playboy, January, 1991, Joe Morgenstern, "Penny from Heaven," pp. 144-145, 162, 170-176.
Premiere, January, 1991, Rachel Abramowitz, "Shot by Shot," pp. 93-95; July, 1992, Nancy Griffin, "Cleanup Women," pp. 76-80, 82.
PR Newswire, November 11, 2002, "Actor/Director Penny Marshall Signs Talent Development Deal with Universal Television."
Publishers Weekly, October 2, 1995, "Wake Me When It's Funny," p. 40.
Rolling Stone, January 10, 1991, Peter Travers, review of Awakenings, p. 59.
Time, June 6, 1988, Gerald Clarke, "Little Boy Lost and Found," pp. 78-79; July 6, 1992, Richard Schickel, "The Girls of Summer," pp. 72-73; December 16, 1996, Rich Corliss, review of The Preacher's Wife, p. 73; October 29, 2001, Richard Schickel, review of Riding in Cars with Boys, p. 85.
Variety, October 15, 2001, Robert Koehler, review of Riding in Cars with Boys, p. 33.
Reelviews,http://movie-reviews.colossus.net/ (June 22, 2004), James Berardinelli, review of Renaissance Man. *